Square-blade phobia

There’s no doubt about it – square blading can be beautiful.

But, boy, can it be ugly too.

In my early sculling days, I started to develop a phobia about it. Being the rookie in a quad, I would always blame myself for everything that was wrong in the boat.

The very prospect of the standard square-blade warm-up had me breaking a sweat. And the tension that rose up through my arms and shoulders just compounded the problem.

I would get stuck at the finish and the boat would rock around (I was never sure which came first) and, as my blades clipped the water on the recovery, I would struggle to push the handles away and my arms would start to tire. And that was just the warm up!

I vowed to get the hang of it. It’s a work in progress.

5 things are helping me improve at square blading

  • I make sure I have enough room to tap down at the finish i.e. I am not hitting my body.
  • I tap down using my forearms, not my shoulders. I try to really relax my shoulders.
  • I have changed my grip position. I knew something was wrong here because I had to move the position of my hands on the handles when I swapped between square blading and feathering.
  • I start with arms only and move progressively to full slide.
  • I practise a lot in my single, where only I can see the ugliness.

But why?

Why do we need to learn to row with square blades?

For a cleaner finish seems to be the main reason.

Sometimes I have a dirty finish on strokeside because I am not coming out completely square i.e. I am starting to feather while my blade is still in the water. I heard someone call this ‘squeathering‘.

Also, by teaching me to tap down to get enough clearance to come out square, my hand heights are then more likely to be correct on the recovery, giving me plenty of room to square up without having to dip the handles further down into the boat. This allows me to let the handles rise as I approach the catch and avoid missing water (something that continues to torment me).

Those 2 things are motivation enough for me to keep on square blading.

But there are other benefits, according to Carlos Dinares’ tips for rowing on the square:

“Rowing on the square … will teach you:
– to complete your stroke
– to get the blade out of the water clean and vertical
– to feather when you want
– to get an early roll-up to achieve a better catch overtime.”

He adds a word of caution:

“… in order to row on the square, first you need to know how to have balance while you row. So to balance your boat you need to be able to change direction at the end of the stroke without losing pressure on your feet against the footstretcher while you take the blade out of the water and change direction of your body mass from going to the bow to now going to the stern. If you know how to do that well we can start talking about rowing on the square!!”

Keeping pressure on the foot-stretcher – I think that’s something I need to focus on. I’ll give it a try.

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